Public Meetings and Other Menaces

Harry Drabik

The first time (way past) I was asked to sit on a committee I felt a sense of usefulness along with mild flattery. It wasn’t long before I got over both feelings. If you’ve ever sat on a committee you’ll know they are typically long in wind and negligible in progress. It didn’t take more than six meetings to size the breezier participants. My guess; the windy ones had spouses happy to have the hubby or the missus out of the house to spread their particular style of breeze elsewhere. Back then I could be charitable (a flaw I’ve since worked diligently to improve) and felt pity for the poor soul pouring out yet another pointless story attempting humor and group edification, none of which was a success except at its ending. After a few years not even the finest gourmet coffee and haut cuisine pastry could lure me to committee land. I’d been there and was sure I’d suffered enough, especially after learning it was doubtful purgatory time on earth counted in one’s favor in the hereafter.

It was a skeptical eye I raised when participation on an advisory board was waved before me. But when you’re young sap is flowing an invitation to participate can have the same effect as sight of someone interesting across a well packed room. Sense and reason depart as the hormone of adventure kicks in. Being on an advisory board did prove to be different because we were given a specific area to investigate and then report back. We investigated for near a year before reporting our findings. We were thanked by an official who was soon presenting our work with conclusions and recommendations far removed from ours, but superior in their manner of clever misrepresentation. Even a modestly endowed administrator is proficient at using a board as political cover to push through a proposal that needed the artificial trimmings of public support. It’s like flocking an artificial tree. Our board had been duly flocked.

Experience with burning coals teaches non-dying lessons. After one time you’re not apt to hold one in your hand or put it on your tongue again. Fire burns. Committees and boards bore. To avoid these pains I learned to ask a few simple questions when asked to sit for a supposed worthy cause. Does the group have a budget? An answer of NO tells a great deal. Does the group have any authority? A NO completes what is necessary to know. No authority, no budget; that much accomplishment wouldn’t need my help. That much nothing can be easily done without aid. I can’t tell the number of times those two questions freed me of committee and board tortures. I consider myself sufficiently civic minded by making room for those who enjoy and thrive on committees. They love doing it, so who am I to stand in the way of their fulfillment?

Another handy stratagem is cultivating the habit of making yourself annoying. Sometimes merely insisting the group keep to its agenda will raise wails from the blabber inclined. This is good. Of course, if I am in some group it’s not because I want to be liked or gain popularity. The aim behind being annoying and blunt is to get at the facts and see whatever truth there may be. Some in the group will see this as rude. But that’s important only if I put someone liking me above the value of making better decisions. I save making nice for lunch or coffee. In a meeting the task is the business at hand. People who kibitz at meetings waste my time for their purposes. I think that’s as rude and inconsiderate as reminding them to stay on the agenda.

A funny thing at meetings are the casually dressed who think they have to talk formal-fancy in public. A person who all their life has “gone” to work will suddenly say they “proceeded” to work. Where did that come from? Or they will claim they “decided” something when the idea was a harebrained whim when first burped up and remains one yet. The classing of opinions and stray inclinations as decisions does pretty them up in the public eye, but quite often they’ll carry the aroma of the throne room where first hatched. Admittedly, a speaker won’t get much traction saying inspiration arrived during bowel relief, But if the idea is a common stinker calling it a decision doesn’t hide the stench. 

Another funny feature in meetings is the comical reasons people give as justification for purely selfish positions. A person who says we when they should have used I has my sympathy for acting ashamed of what they believe. They surround private belief with an invisible crowd to create a “we” position. Use of we sounds better than saying one tenth of one percent of people in this district. Fact contrary to a position is usually ignored. Then there are those who advocate spending for purposes such as saving the pussy willow but suddenly turn fiscal conservatives if there’s no pussy willow to save and a proposal from another direction upsets them. Some go to meetings intent on keeping their heads in the sand. This seems lamentable but is actually a great improvement over where their heads normally reside. Ah but the prize will always go to the splendid fellowship that will proudly reach a conclusion that nothing should be done. This is actually a good thing as many of those so concluding are at their functional limit doing naught.  It’s a societal good that they’re not reaching out to do more.

An aside: national news reporting stunningly labeled Poland’s Independence Day (11/11) March a Fascist inspired Nazi rally. Really? Poles were among the first victims of Nazism. They fought Nazism and its forced immigration practices at great cost of lives. That doesn’t make them Nazi. Poland struggled under and broke free from Communist Marxism, a version of Fascist Marxism. This does not make them Fascist. But take comfort the well paid ABC reporter who thought so is safe from drowning in his thimbleful of history.